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Detroit Judge Bans Police From Using Tear Gas, Batons On BLM Protesters
DETROIT, MI - MAY 29: Protester faces a line of police as over 1000 protesters gathered on May 29, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. A solidarity rally was held with other nationwide protests against the death of Minneapolis, Minnesota resident, George Floyd. Protests continued later into the night police and protesters clashed in a series of violent confrontations where police arrested dozens and used tear gas and pepper spray. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)
Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

A Detroit judge ruled late last week that the Detroit Police Department cannot use non-lethal means to handle anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests until they descend into chaos — at least for the next two weeks — and Detroit’s anti-police activists are looking to make the ban permanent.

Activists with a group called Detroit Will Breathe sued the city of Detroit last week, alleging that Detroit police used excessive force to control Black Lives Matter protests that took place in late May and June, following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.

The protesters claim, according to the Detroit Free Press, that “police used those objects to fracture bones, inflict baseball-sized lumps and concussions, collapse lungs and cause other injuries that left Black Lives Matter protesters hospitalized and disoriented during marches in Detroit that started on May 29.”

“The demonstrators are out in the streets exercising their First Amendment rights and have been met with brutal violence,” their attorney claimed in a press conference. “We are at a point where the city needs to decide what its image is, what its soul is; whether Detroit is a place that encourages free and open thought and dialogue or whether open dialogue is met with brutal violence.”

Late last week, a judge agreed to issue a temporary injunction against the Detroit Police Department banning them from using non-lethal means, including “batons, shields, gas, rubber bullets, chokeholds or sound cannons” against “peaceful” protesters until the initial hearing on the lawsuit, scheduled to happen in two weeks.

“It’s a win, but the fight continues,” Detroit Will Breathe’s attorney, Jack Schulz, told the Free Press. “For a short period, we know that the police will not be able to use the brutal tactics they have in the past against peaceful protesters without violating a court order.”

The group’s goal, they admit, is not simply to bar police from using these tactics on demonstrators, but to bar the Detroit Police Department from using force in nearly any situation: “We are still seeking permanent relief from the police’s ability to be able to use these tactics,” Schulz said.

The judge’s order does note, the Detroit News reports, that police may continue to use non-lethal force to control any demonstration that is not “peaceful.”

Detroit police say they have no problem with “peaceful protests,” which the judge referred to specifically in the order, but as the Detroit News noted just last week, the Detroit Police Department has had to take an aggressive stand when demonstrations turned potentially violent. They were also forced to take action to prevent an “autonomous zone” from taking shape in the city’s downtown, avoiding a situation like the one in Seattle, which resulted in the deaths of at least two people.

“Officers used force to prevent protesters from setting up a ‘Seattle zone of lawlessness’ during demonstrations that turned violent Saturday,” Detroit’s police chief told the outlet last Monday, noting that the Department has initiated internal investigations into any officer involved in a “skirmish” with protesters.

“I am not going to let any group set up a Seattle zone of lawlessness here in the city of Detroit,” Detroit police chief James Craig said. “That is non-negotiable.”

Police also note that they will continue to use non-lethal force if protests escalate.

Editors Note: The original version of this story noted that Detroit Police would be prevented from using non-lethal force if protests “escalate.” That assessment of the order was mistaken, per Detroit’s police chief, who noted, in his response to the order, that the department will continue to use non-lethal means of crowd control for any protest that goes beyond “peaceful.” The headline and story have been corrected and updated to reflect this. We regret the error. 

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